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Ed Paschke Art Center Planned for Jefferson Park

By Heather Cherone | November 21, 2013 7:08am
  A mural honoring the acclaimed Chicago artist is complete near Lawrence and Avondale avenues.
Museum and Art School Planned to Honor Artist Ed Paschke
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JEFFERSON PARK — Now that a mural honoring acclaimed artist Ed Paschke has turned a barren Jefferson Park viaduct into a high-tech art gallery, plans are in the works to build a community center and museum on the Far Northwest Side to honor the Chicago native.

The Ed Paschke Foundation, in conjunction with the Jefferson Park-based Rabb Family Foundation, plans to announce the location of the Ed Paschke Art Center in the Jefferson Park business district in 90 days, said Vesna Stelcer, of the Rabb Family Foundation.

The art center will keep Paschke's legacy alive for a new generation of Chicagoans, while giving emerging artists a place to hone their craft, Stelcer said.

"It will be great for the whole community," Stelcer said, adding that organizers hope the center will give the Jefferson Park business district, which has been plagued by empty storefronts, a shot of adrenaline.

The art center will display Paschke's pop art paintings, many of which showcase colorful and up-close pictures of people's faces. Paschke's work, which also depicts manipulated images of iconic figures such as Elvis Presley, Abraham Lincoln and Adolf Hitler, has been featured in a retrospective at the Art Institute and at the Pompidou Center in Paris.

Paschke, who was often called Chicago's most important visual artist, rose to prominence in the late 1960s as part of a group of artists known as the Imagists. ​

Born near Central Park and Diversey avenues and raised in the northwest suburbs, Paschke taught for 27 years at Northwestern University and served as the chairman of the department of art theory and practice. He died in 2004.

"Paschke loved teaching people who had never been exposed to art before," Stelcer said, adding that the art center will be friendly and welcoming in keeping with Paschke's approach as an artist.

The art center is scheduled to open on June 22, which would have been Paschke's 75th birthday, Stelcer said.

Jefferson Park's location along the Metra's Union Pacific Northwest line and the CTA's Blue Line make it an ideal location, Stelcer said.

"The art center should be in a diverse neighborhood that people can get to, and not Downtown," Stelcer said.

The art center plans to open at first in an existing building in Jefferson Park, but the foundations' plans call for a new structure to be built in the neighborhood's business district, Stelcer said.

The School of the Art Institute, Northwestern University, the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art and 3M have agreed to help establish the art center, Stelcer said.

It makes sense to build a museum to honor Paschke, who was Polish, in Jefferson Park, which is also home to the Copernicus Center, which is dedicated to preserving and promoting Polish culture, Stelcer said. 

The mural honoring Paschke is adjacent to the Copernicus Center, and was completed this week.

Although the Rabb Family Foundation and the Paschke Foundation had originally partnered with Arts Alive 45, an organization that works to create public art through out the 45th Ward, Arts Alive 45 bowed out of the project when the foundations changed their concept of the mural, said Arts Alive 45 President Cyd Smillie.

"When they decided they wanted photographic reproduction of the works, we went our separate ways," Smillie said, adding that the three groups remain on good terms and plan to work together on a mural near Ainslie and Lipps avenue near the Jefferson Park Transit Center.

The mural honoring Paschke at Lawrence and Avondale avenues under the Union Pacific tracks showcases works that span Paschke's entire career, which began in the 1960s. The paintings showcased include "Accordion Man" from 1969, "Guitao" from 1978, "Calypso Rojo" from 1979, "Marbillize" from 1993, "El Tropica" from 1998 and "Starr Blue" from 2003. 

Marc Paschke, who runs the foundation dedicated to his father, said he hoped the mural would intrigue passers-by and encourage them to learn more about art.

An Arts Alive 45 mural that depicted dancers, musical notes and an "L" train car dubbed "Jazz, Jefferson Park" was painted over to make way for the mural's 12 images and two quotes from Paschke.

Paschke's paintings were reproduced on the viaduct's walls — once crumbling and covered with bird excrement and home to rat nests — using a graphic film from 3M that is sustainable and won't pollute the environment, Stelcer said.

The mural has changed the entire experience of walking through the viaduct near the Kennedy Expressway, Smillie said.

"Murals almost always lead to continued progress," Smillie said. "The pattern has been established, and the improvement will continue."